ADL Pushes Hate Crimes Laws As 75th Annual Meeting Opens

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith has intensified its efforts against bias-motivated vandalism and intimidation with a call for nationwide adoption of its model hate-crimes legislation.

The legislation, contained in an edition of the “ADL Law Report” that was released Wednesday on the opening day of the organization’s 75th annual meeting calls for increased criminal penalties for vandalism of religious or ethnic institutions and for racially or ethnically motivated personal attacks.

In addition, it requires law enforcement officials to collect data on incidents of bigotry and to provide special hate crimes training for police officers.

The new report puts special emphasis on data collection, which ADL’s national chairman, Burton Levinson, called a “necessary and crucial weapon” in combatting hate crimes.

According to Levinson, out of more than 30 states which have enacted hate-crimes statutes, fewer than 10 provide for the collection and analysis of bias-related data.

In interviews conducted at the annual meeting, ADL officials seemed confident that additional states will adopt the legislation. Seventeen states have already passed hate-crimes laws that are based on, or are similar to, the ADL model.

According to Steven Freeman, assistant director of ADL’s national legal affairs department, there has been little significant opposition to the legislation — “other than inertia or the feeling that ‘we don’t need it,’ ” — in the states where it has been introduced.

A LEGAL STANDPOINT

“With bias crimes incidents like those in Forsyth County and Howard Beach, states are looking more and more at the legislation from a legal and community relations standpoint. The legislation is a tool for law enforcement and important for its symbolic value,” said Freeman.

(Violence between marchers and the Ku Klux Klan marred a civil rights demonstration in Forsyth County, Ga., last year, and Howard Beach, N. Y., was the site of a 1986 attack on two black men by a gang of white youths.)

Justin Finger, ADL’s associate national director, spoke in favor of statutes included in the legislation that allow targets of racial or religious attack to file civil action.

“Hate crimes all too often are treated as minor offenses and pranks. ‘Alright, someone smeared a swastika or “nigger” on a house. You can wash it off.’ But there is no concern paid to the psyche of the victim,” said Finger.

The new report also calls for U.S. Senate action on a pending bill that would impose criminal penalties for damage to religious property in excess of $10,000, or for “obstructing an individual’s free exercise of religious beliefs.”

Levinson announced a conference on anti-Semitic and other biased crimes to be held in October in Los Angeles.

The ADL’s annual meeting, being held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel here, was dominated Wednesday by discussion of U.S. -Israel relations.

Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir and former Soviet prisoner of conscience Natan Sharansky are also scheduled to address the meeting.

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